Let's Talk About Real Carcinogens, Like This Fungus

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There's a lot of media coverage of this carcinogen and that. Almost exclusively, however, the reports deal with synthetic chemicals that supposedly present intolerable risks to the most vulnerable populations -- infants and children. But in many cases, if not most, the evidence of risk is not substantiated by sound science. There are, however, naturally-occurring chemicals that are known to be carcinogenic. One might say, "Well, if they occur naturally, there's nothing to be done about them." But that's not true -- one case in point is that of fumonisins, chemicals that are toxic and carcinogenic to animals and humans, produced by fungi that grow on corn.

And what can be done is to grow gene-spliced corn that lessens the possibility that the fungi can attack the corn.

In an article on the website of Truth about Trade, Dr. Bruce Chassy and Dr. Drew Kershen explain how this can be done. When corn is modified by inclusion of a gene from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), it is less likely to be attacked by insects. Since points of insect infestations are prime sites for fungal invasion, decreasing insect attacks also lessen fungus growth. Not only would this decrease the risk of cancer, it would also diminish the risk of some birth defects, such as neural tube abnormalities, in babies born to women who eat unprocessed corn. Dr.s Chassy and Kershen explain the connections in a very clear essay -- it's worth reading.

So when you read that the only people who are helped by agricultural genetic engineering are big companies and farmers, think about the consumers of corn and their babies. We now have the ability to help protect them from real -- and totally natural -- toxins and carcinogens.

Ruth Kava, Ph.D., R.D., is Director of Nutrition at the American Council on Science and Health.